Almost 60 uniquely designed and pieced quilts were donated this year by kids as young as 6 years old who accepted a challenge by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service's 4-H youth organization.
(PressZoom) - COLLEGE STATION - What began as a pile of scraps handed from one state agency to another has led to a statewide challenge for kids to blanket the needy. Almost 60 uniquely designed and pieced quilts were donated this year by kids as young as 6 years old who accepted a challenge by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service's 4-H youth organization.
Since the challenge officially began in 2007, organizers say, more than 113 quilts have been given and the challenge is gaining steam with attention from professional quilters and festivals.
"It started when the Texas Department of Agriculture told us they had fabric left over from their quilt challenge. They needed to get rid of it, so they contacted the AgriLife Extension 4-H clothing projects, and sent it to us in a box," said Katie M. Phillips, AgriLife Extension agent in Kaufman County.
"There were lots of different pieces, lots of different colors. Mishmash. It made no sense," she said. "But we opened it, and the kids' eyes just lit up!"
The "kids" happened to be part of the Clothing and Textiles Advisory Board for 4-H, the youth group administered by AgriLife Extension, and one of their responsibilities is to direct and promote the clothing and textile projects statewide.
Asked what they wanted to do with the fabric, the kids readily responded, "We want to make quilts!" Phillips recalls.
From the box came about 30 different types of fabric which was sorted according to size and color then doled out for the kids to take back to their counties and spread the word: A quilt challenge was on.
Six months later, 20 quilts returned to the 4-H Roundup in June 2006 for judging before being given to charity.
"With no rules, no size limitations, no rhyme, no reason, 20 quilts came back" Phillips said. "At that point, we agents and other adults looked at each other and said, ‘We’ve got something here.'"
The first rule is that the youthful quilt makers can not get too attached to their blankies.
"As we don't charge them anything for the fabric, we send them forth saying 'whatever you make you can not keep, you have to give it away,'" Phillips said, noting that it doesn't matter to whom the blanket is given and the organizers like to hear how the child determined who would receive the quilt. "One child made it for her grandmother. Another group made a quilt and used it as a fundraiser for another community service. One is hanging in one of the county courthouses in Texas."
The group did come up with a few guidelines to get the stitchers going - but not many, Phillips said, so as not to stifle the youthful creativity - and they found a donor to provide the fabric to 4-H quilting contenders for free.
Each year, the quilt challenge has a theme: a Texas theme with a yellow background the first official year brought in about 34 quilts; a red, white and blue stars theme the second year netted 21 quilts; this year's 4-H green and farm animals theme drew 58 quilts.
Phillips said one of the interesting discoveries has been that two of the fabrics the group selected were designed by women with direct ties to 4-H: one a mother of 4-H kids and the other was herself a 4-H member who credits the organization with starting her interest in sewing which led to her successful career now as a fabric designer.
The quilting industry -- and with an estimated $3 billion spent annually on the hobby, according to a recent survey by Quilting Inc., it can be called an industry -- has taken notice of what the Texas youths are doing, Phillips said, who co-manages the project with Sandra Fry, AgriLife Extension agent in Fort Bend County.
"Quilting is making a come back with young people and Texas youth are right on the forefront," said Angela McCorkle, AgriLife Extension clothing program specialist. "Young people are learning sewing skills as well as math skills as they design and put together their quilts." Two officials from Quilt Inc. judged this year's quilt challenge entries, and the group is inviting all Texas 4-Hers to attend the 2010 Quilt Market and Festival next fall in Houston. Texas 4-H stitchers will be featured exhibitors at the 2011 quilt event when the theme points to the state's 175th anniversary.
Fabric will be selected in the fall and pieces will be given to 4-H members beginning in January. The quilts will be judged at 4-H Roundup in June 2011 and then exhibited at the quilters festival the following fall.
"Every kid who had a quilt in the show was a winner," Phillips said. "Did they all get ribbons? No. But can you imagine an 8-year-old requested the fabric, planned the quilt, cut it out, sewed it together, followed all of the guidelines, got it to us, and it was exhibited at state? From start to finish, they did an entire project. They won!
"And most of the kids I talked to asked, 'When can I do it again?'"
McCorkle said she is always amazed to see the finished quilts that the youth create.
"All of the quilts have the same challenge fabric, but no two quilts look alike," she said. "We received quilts from all over the state. Little counties and big counties as well as military 4-H were represented."
Guidelines for the quilting challenge can be found at http://fcs.tamu.edu/clothing/4h/quiltchallenge/2010-quilt-challenge.pdf.
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